Kolkata: West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress is drawing heavy flak from opposition parties, especially the BJP, for roping in Bangladeshi actors to boost the party’s campaign in the state.
The Trinamool action, perhaps unprecedented in independent India’s democratic history, has brought up issues of legality, visa rules and ethics, with calls for arrest of the dramatis personae and a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to unearth whether any foreign insurgent group is involved in the entire episode.
The row was sparked off after videos appeared of Bangladeshi actor Ferdous Ahmed canvassing for Trinamool’s Raiganj Lok Sabha constituency candidate Kanaia Lal Agarwal in Islampur of North Dinajpur district.
The issue got further escalated when another video grab showed his fellow Bangladeshi actor Gazi Abdun Noor canvassing alongside Trinamool leader Madan Mitra in support of the party’s Dum Dum constituency candidate Sougata Roy.
The BJP on Sunday sent a complaint through WhatsApp to the Bengal Chief Electoral Officer Ariz Aftab about Ahmed, and asked him to verify the legality of the matter with reference to the actor’s visa terms.
On Monday, BJP national Secretary Rahul Sinha alleged that Trinamool has lost the moral right to contest the polls after taking the “unprecedented step” of roping in foreign nationals to influence voters in India’s democratic process.
“She (Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee) should withdraw all her candidates. She has besmirched Bengal’s reputation. This is unprecedented in the country’s democratic history.
“Today, actors are coming from Bangladesh. Tomorrow those from Pakistan will come. She may depend on Pakistan’s militant organisations also.”
In the wake of the controversy, the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission here asked Ahmed to return home.
“Based on media reports, he was asked whether he participated in the campaign or not. Ahmed told us that he was there for the purpose of shooting and had participated in the (ongoing Lok Sabha election) campaign. It was not a right thing to take part in the election as a foreign national. He was asked to go back,” said an official of the Deputy High Commission for Bangladesh.
“We have also suggested to him that he should resume his shooting activities after the election season gets over,” he told.
The Indian government, however, has cancelled Ahmed’s visa and he has been asked to leave the country, the Union Home Ministry announced on Tuesday evening.
Sinha, however, demanded that both Ahmed and Gazi Noor should have been arrested, and strong action should be taken against such people who “interfere in our internal affairs”.
He said those who sponsored the two actors and used their services committed an act of “treason” and called for strong punitive action against the Trinamool including arrest on criminal charges of all those persons who facilitated the matter.
“If there is any foreign conspiracy that has to be probed. Personally i feel Jamaat-e-Islami is involved. Let there be a probe by the NIA. We will write to the Centre,” he said.
BJP Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta said the matter is a violation of visa rules as those coming to India on business visa cannot take part in political activities.
“This is no minor matter. If such private initiatives continue, then the normal diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh can be affected.
“Is Trinamool running its own private foreign policy? If anybody says it’s a minor matter, then what is there to prevent fundamentalists from Pakistan from coming here and campaigning?”
On a remark by an Election Commission official here that the Model Code of Conduct had nothing specific on foreign national campaigning for any political party, Dasgupta said: “Well, the MCC does not include application of common sense.”
To prevent any recurrence of such episodes, he suggested the External Affairs Ministry issue an advisory to all Indian embassies that foreigners are not allowed to campaign in Indian elections.
Sinha said his party had sent the complaint to the poll panel which has said it is a vital matter and sought clarification from External Affairs Ministry.
The Congress also lashed out against the Trinamool and the actors. “I have told the Election Commission that both the actors, as also the candidates, and those who played a role in taking them for the campaigning should be arrested and a probe ordered,” senior party leader Pradip Bhattacharya told.
However, another Congress leader and leading lawyer Arunava Ghosh claimed there is no general bar on any foreign national from campaigning in Indian elections. “Well, if there is any specific bar on an individual, then that’s a different case.”
On the other hand, Agarwal denied that Ahmed campaigned for him. “I have no such information,” he said.
Ahmed, 45, has acted in over 200 films in Bangladesh and won the Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Actor on four occasions.
Gazi Noor is in Kolkata to act in a television serial “Karunamoyee Ranirashmoni”.